Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 4 Hansard (1 April) . . Page.. 1122 ..
MS TUCKER (continuing):
consumer interest then developing the framework and partnership with pertinent consumer and trade organisations would seem to be basic to the process and consistent with its intent. Perhaps now we have taken the first step, the community partners can be brought into the exercise.
There are also questions about finding good people to serve on the tribunal and its panels, the resourcing of the tribunal, the relationship with the courts and so on. Those issues have yet to be addressed. A wider constituency of consumer- and trader-focused organisations may assist in addressing them.
I am supporting this bill as it is the necessary precursor to the rest of the project but I am looking forward with keen interest to learning how the government proposes, with all transparency, to proceed from here. Concerns were raised by the Scrutiny of Bills Committee, some of which have been taken on board by the government.
I am pleased that the original timetable for debate was not pursued, as there simply would not have been time to consider in any detail the scrutiny report and government response. We have not had long, and community-based organisations and experts generally have had even less time available, to consider such issues and respond.
On that note, there remains the question about the shifting of the power to make orders and impose fines to the more informal structure of tribunals. This is something we need to consider carefully as this project continues. I suggest that the government conduct an independent review after two or three years, paying particular attention both to the consumer experience and to the issues raised by the scrutiny report. If the government is not happy to move amendments at the next stage of the tribunal-making process, I would be happy to do so myself.
MR SPEAKER: Before I hand over to you, Ms Dundas, I would like to welcome to the Assembly Year 4 and 5 students from Emmaus Christian School at Dickson.
MS DUNDAS (11.23): The ACT Democrats will be supporting the establishment of the Consumer and Trader Tribunal as it will provide a one-stop shop for consumer affairs in relation to real estate, business, employment agents and the security industry.
Following the passing of the Security Industry Bill and the Agents Bill, this bill completes the reforms that are needed in this area. My discussions with the Office of Fair Trading tell me that there is definitely a need for this reform. Currently there are about 2,000 or more written complaints a year and about 12,000 phone inquiries to the office. The approach is normally to help consumers help themselves, but in some cases civil court action may be necessary. The establishment of a specific tribunal will allow experts in both consumer law and conflict resolution to work together without the expense or complexity that exists in civil courts.
As many people seeking justice in this area will be representing themselves, a more casual tribunal not bound by the rules of evidence should make the process both inexpensive and simple. I am pleased to see that the bill contains words like "natural justice"to make the decision making process fairer and more approachable for members of the community.